Last week I told my husband that we’re no longer archiving trail cam videos of raccoons (Procyon lotor). We’re usually pretty excited by our captures and have saved clips of almost every encounter in our Nest account. Our subscription allows us to store up to three hours of video. We’ve used up about half of that in more than 150 clips ranging from 13 seconds to about a minute — many of which are raccoons.
Aside from a dozen or so clips simply titled, “Raccoon”, I have clips with names like, “Two raccoons on the porch”, “Fat raccoon”, “Raccoon family on the dock”, “Raccoons at the BBQ”, and “Raccoon on bird feeder.” Such is life with raccoons.
And really, I’m fine with that. We live in the woods. They are part of the package. And they aren’t really a nuisance for us. We store garbage safely in the garage and take it a kilometre up the road to a metal bin once a week. A slight adjustment of the bird feeder keeps them (but not squirrels) off of that. And my vegetable garden? Well everyone raids that making gardening untenable here anyway.
I was only ever concerned once. In the spring of 2017, this young raccoon showed up at the bird feeder.
As you can see, there is something terribly wrong with it. It eventually staggered off into the woods, presumably to die. I promptly emailed my neighbours with kids or dogs and warned them about it, letting them know that it would not be able to outrun dogs or avoid kids who might try to approach it.
As sad as those videos are, it’s always advised to leave sick animals alone. Raccoons in particular carry several diseases which are dangerous to humans.
One is a roundworm called Baylisascaris procyonis that infects about 40% of Ontario raccoons. The adult worms do not cause illness in raccoons, but their eggs are shed in raccoon feces where they can infect other animals, including (but rarely) humans. About a dozen people have have died as a result of this parasite — mainly children.
Also, of course, is raccoon rabies which can spread to humans through the raccoon’s saliva via bite wounds or on contact with open wounds, eyes, or mouth. Raccoon rabies has been largely controlled in Ontario, but with outbreaks still occurring in Quebec, it’s something to be aware of. Again, incidences of human infection are rare but that’s partially due to public education and safe practices.
So, rural raccoons are a fact of life — something we can live with as long as we maintain safe wildlife practices. Meanwhile, city raccoons, as anyone familiar with Toronto knows, are an ongoing nuisance — creatures who have defied all efforts to prevent them from taking over the city. In fact, the “Raccoon capital of the world” had to learn the hard (and expensive way) that trickier green bins just made for smarter raccoons.
The $31-million contract gave us roughly half a million bins, a decade of maintenance and a promise: that raccoons would have great difficulty penetrating the clever new receptacles. City politicians called the bins “raccoon-proof.” — Toronto Star
Or not —
I think my favourite parts of that video (besides the safe-cracking) are the happy noises the younger raccoons make when they see the door open.
But I want to leave you with one last human-raccoon dynamic that I haven’t covered here. This story completely blew me away. On the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe, raccoons are revered and protected. They are actively fed and are allowed to steal what they want from yards, homes, and outdoor establishments. Raccoon images emblazon flags, restaurant signs, and government offices. And while it’s illegal to keep raccoons as pets, many folks secretly do.
The reason for the raccoon’s special place in Guadeloupe culture is an intriguing tale that stretches back to 1911, when a box with a dead raccoon in it showed up in Washington D.C. To hear the story of the Guadalupe raccoons, check out this RadioLab podcast. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.